It’s hard to separate the work of Fritz Kalkbrenner without referring to his brother Paul. Their first collaboration together, the soundtrack for the film Berlin Calling, led to a major hit, “Sky and Sand,” and while it propelled Paul Kalkbrenner into the limelight, Fritz’s unique, soulful vocal became synonymous with the movie itself.
Soon, though, Fritz began releasing music on Suol, a label whose audio aesthetics matched those of his own, and he found success with his debut album, Here Today Gone Tomorrow, which combined Fritz’s love for soul, hip-hop and techno. This week, the Berlin producer releases his second album, Sick Travellin’, and before he does, we catch up with him to get the lowdown on what went into its production.
Where do you begin in the track-making process?
The good old question; I think the blunt truth is that there is no recipe. There can be many ways to start a track, whether it’s a break, or cutting and chopping a sample, or a four-tone melody coming out of a synthesizer. Honestly, I’m not trying to avoid the question; there are as many ways as there are tracks, but, if had to pick a way, then it would probably be where I take a sample, chop, flip, and play around with it.
Is there a specific piece of equipment you use to start putting ideas down?
Most of my ideas, I draw them in Ableton Live version 8, which is still the latest version, I believe. This is where I usually work to hold my first ideas. A lot of connoisseurs still say that the audio engine of Ableton Live is not the best, but I still prefer them ‘cuz I’m very into the workflow of the software and I’ve been using Ableton synths—the first version—for more than 10 years now.
What kinds of music have you been listening to to help drive you with this new record?
The kind that I’m always listening to: The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Flying Lotus, J Dilla… you name it, ya know? Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Hall & Oates—their early material, before all the ’80s stuff.
What particular new pieces of gear have you been using?
Plain and simple; it’s the outboard technique in the new studio which helped me most in the recording process. Because it meant I could record any type of vocals right in the studio using these very good old compressors like Teletronics, Cube Tech, Empex. These old hardware compressors that give a warm, crispy, crushing sound on the vocals.
Finally, is there a specific message you wanted to convey with Sick Travellin’?
Well, it’s totally not about travelling when you’re feeling ill [laughs]. It’s more about always being on the road, and it’s kind of a warning. You know, I travelled constantly from the age of 25 to 35 and as I sing in the intro “A man is tumbling down, sick travellin‘,” it’s kind of a warning, both to me and to others, that an unbalanced life always travelling will result in you tumbling down. I think that’s the basic message.